I have been to China only once and after that one visit I can definitely say that the statement about China becoming the leader in the world economy is not an exaggeration. Even though Shanghai remains a place of contradictions where the poor live alongside luxurious apartments and restaurants, it is one of the major cities in China that reflect the economic might of this country. Shanghai used to be a small fishing port and it wasn’t until 1842 that the English, French and Japanese came down and expanded the city. As a result Shanghai was divided into spheres of influence of foreign countries that were excluded from the jurisdiction of China what subsequently turned the city into special economic zone. In the early 20th century Shanghai had become China’s largest port, with the majority of population being foreigners, who looked after their interests. The city flourished through trade in silk, tea, and opium. From this period come a significant part of European-style buildings lining the Bund riverside area and the French part of town known as Frenchtown.
Shanghai’s intensive growth began in 1990 when the plan for the development of one of its districts was drafted. In a result the Special Economic Zone was set up in Pudong. Huge international and domestic investments led the city to be far ahead of its Chinese neighbours. Since then Shanghai has become a building sight with a constant rise in number of modern office buildings and skyscrapers. Pudong New Age and its famous landmarks could be seen in Hollywood productions such as Mission Impossible III, where Tom Cruise does some spectacular jumps from Jin Mao Tower. The Pudong skyscrapers include Shanghai World Financial Centre (very interesting building, resembling a bottle opener), Oriental Pearl TV Tower, and Shimao International Plaza.
Things to see
I was fortunate enough to live in the centre of Pudong near the Oriental Pearl Tower, which is 468 m high. Serving as Shanghai’s antenna, broadcasting TV and radio programmes, the Tower can be accessed by tourists and one can admire the city skyline from its observatory levels. Pudong also offers a range of amazing restaurants, hotels, shopping centers, museums and the aquarium. In the evenings all the riverside buildings and skyscrapers are lit with thousands of colorful lights, displaying commercials on their walls. To fully appreciate the night views of Shanghai, taking a boat cruise on Huangpu River is a must as it exposes a passenger to the beauty of the variety of colorful buildings and bright pink might of the Oriental Pearl Tower.
One of the major attractions in Shanghai is YuYuan Garden located in the north-east end of Shanghai’s old town. The gardens are more than 400 years old and are surrounded by the bazaar where the tourists can find a selection of Chinese handicrafts (ridiculously cheap and a guarantee of a shopping spree!).
I have also managed to visit Zhouzhuang Water Town in Suzhou, which is a city located next to Shanghai Municipality. Often called Venice of the East, this town is the best water town preserved in China. It has a history of over 900 years with the rivers and streams crisscrossing the town, spanning by fourteen stone-arch bridges. Without a doubt it was the most magical and peaceful place I have seen in China due to its historical feel and sights as well as charming water alleys and ability to participate in its inhabitants’ everyday lives.
Even though inhabited by approximately 20 million Chinese, at times Shanghai seems to be the least Chinese city in China! The Bund, the number of American fast foods and coffee shops on the Nanjing Road clash with the traditional Chinese gardens, temples and the lack of English speakers in Shanghai!